MELBOURNE -- Building materials maker James Hardie Industries NV reported a sharp jump in fourth quarter profit, at the top end of market forecasts, and rewarded shareholders with a $91 million capital return.

James Hardie, with most of its sales in the United States, reported a net profit of $29.3 million for the 2001/02 year, with a dramatic jump in fourth quarter profit to $15.2 million from $300,000 a year ago built on its key U.S. fiber cement business.

Following a year of restructuring, bedding down its Cemplank acquisition and selling its poor gypsum business, James Hardie CEO Peter Macdonald said the company was in an impregnable position in the United States, poised for rapid growth.

"It would be very hard to make money competing with our business model....We believe we have a sustainable competitive advantage," Macdonald said.

Analysts' annual profit forecasts had ranged between $24 million and $30 million, down from $38.2 million a year ago after a raft of one-off charges taken earlier in the year. The $91 million capital return was also within their forecast range.

James Hardie's U.S. fiber cement arm delivered 30 percent growth in revenue and volume in the fourth quarter, half from Cemplank, topping forecasts of 10 to 15 percent volume growth.

"We are targeting strong volume, revenue and EBIT (earnings before interest and tax) growth in the U.S. this year," Macdonald told analysts and reporters.